All posts by Tricia's Travels

We are Waiting for you at Home

Nope….not at my actual home….welcome to Bolivia! I arrived here via blue skies with views of the most beautiful water I’ve seen from the air in a long time. I mean, come on. 🙂

And now, I’m excited to be volunteering with Habitat for Humanity Bolivia outside Santa Cruz de la Sierra in support of their special project, “We are Waiting for You at Home.”. This project supports families with children suffer from chronic diseases and/or disabilities. The goal is to expand and improve existing homes in order to provide a safe, healthy environment for the children to recover and thrive once they return home from the hospital. How could this not be amazing?!

We have just met our partner family. Jassmin is 15 years old but has already had 4 surgeries for retinoblastoma. She also suffers from hyperthyroidism, a speech impediment and an intellectual disability which leaves her with the mental age of a 6 year old. The good news is that she is an amazing, happy, funny, kind, giving kid AND her cancer is in remission, woohoo! The bad news is that in order to achieve this success, Jassimin’s eye was removed. When doctors attempted to place an artificial eye, her body rejected it and it too had to be removed. They hope to try again in the future – more surgery to come.

In the mean time, Jassmin lives with her mom and her two sisters, age 16 and 18 in a one crowded room with limited ventilation. Here they are during our introductions. Cute (Jassmin on the left). 🙂

These girls have had a difficult life. When their mom, Ana Maria, took Jassmin to Argentina for treatment, she had to abruptly return home when she received news that her neighbors were attempting to steal her land. And in an extremely unfair twist, their mom, Ana Maria, is also undergoing treatment for skin cancer. And just this week she was diagnosed with lung cancer. You would never know it to talk with her, this is a strong woman who loves her family fiercely and is so excited for this opportunity to improve her home.

We’ll be working side by side with this family for a week to help them achieve their dream of home ownership. I can’t wait to get to know them better and become a part of their family. <3

In April, I’ll be returning to Bolivia to again work on the “We are Waiting for you at Home” project! I’m currently recruiting teams for La Paz and Cochabamba. If you’re interested in providing financial support for families such as those of Ana Maria, please use the links here and here. Every dollar counts, ¡muchas gracias!

**Information included in this post was provided by Habitat for Humanity Bolivia. Their support is much appreciated.

Another “First”

When I began volunteering with Habitat for Humanity in 2012, it was a fun way to help others, travel, meet new people and get away from the stresses of work. I never could have imagined just how it would change my life! Since that first trip to Eldama Ravine, Kenya SO many volunteering “firsts” have happened for me. Some were significant (like the first time I witnessed and appreciated the real, true, tangible impact of safe, durable shelter on a families life*), some I prefer to forget (the first time I shared an outhouse with 300+ cockroaches!) and some were just plain unexpected (the first time I was offered a mouse kabob). 🙂

It’s now time for another “first” – next week is the first time I’ll be volunteering with a team comprised solely of people to whom I’m related! While I call them all “my cousins”, technically only one of them falls under that title…but it’s close enough to describe how special they all are to me. We are setting off for Sonsonate, El Salvador where we’ll be working as Global Village volunteers for one week with Habitat for Humanity El Salvador.

During the week, we’ll be assisting a family of 3 to build their own home. Carlos has been the owner of a bakery for 4 years. His wife Wendy is in charge of the baking, and Carlos goes out in the area around the community where they live to sell it each day. They are currently renting a house where they live with their 6 year old son Jonathan. We’re going to meet them in a few days and I can’t wait! Here is their photo with their parents.

I’m so grateful for all of the “firsts” that I’ve had the opportunity to experience as a result of volunteering. Thank you for your support and for sharing the joy with me!

* Follow this link to learn about how safe shelter changes lives.

Same same but different…

In just a month, I’ll be doing one of my favorite things with a couple of new twists.  I’ll be leading a team of Habitat for Humanity Global Village volunteers – this time in Asheville, NC!  That’s right.  A sweet journey of less than 5 hours with only one 45 minute layover will bring me to my next project.  Haha, a far cry from the 16 hour flights I’ve found myself on recently.  No passport required.  No money exchange.  No bungling a foreign language.  I can brush my teeth with water from the sink and eat whatever is offered!  Oh what a relief.  🙂

It seems like a sign that I’ll be taking on this project at a time when the US is sparring with the UN over their recent report that levels of poverty are increasing here at home.  The report – and our response to it – bring their own controversy.  But what rings true in my mind is that our status as a “wealthy, developed nation” does not negate the fact that many of us are in need of assistance.  Yes, I said “us”.  We are in this together.

And eleven of “us” will soon be giving our all to help families in Asheville achieve their dream of home ownership.

This trip has been in the works for more than a year and is special to me for many reasons.  I’m excited to engage with the Ware Institute for Civic Engagement and the Office of Alumni Relations at Franklin & Marshall College to team up with Habitat for Humanity and offer this experience to students, alumni and staff for the first time!  I am passionate about the work of this organization and have wanted to become more involved with my alma mater for quite some time.  I’m thrilled that these things are all coming together!  I’ve also never led a domestic volunteer team and am looking forward to a new experience – including challenging my own assumptions about what “need” looks like.

The Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity (AAHFH) does amazing work around Buncombe County, NC.  They’ve worked on more than 450 homes, serving over 1,300 individuals, since they were founded in 1983.  That’s right – we’re talking about Asheville, North Carolina, United States of America.  A hip, vibrant community set amidst the Blue Ridge Mountains which is home to the Biltmore Estate.  A place where you might want to retire someday.  AAHFH builds 20 houses per year here for families in need.  And they can barely scratch the surface.

There is a lack of affordable housing in the area due largely to the fact that many people who live here with their families are employed in jobs which depend on the highly seasonal tourist industry.  The discrepancy between the wages of hospitality workers and the cost of living in the area is becoming insurmountable for many.  Of the top 20 occupations in Buncombe County, 9 are insufficient to afford appropriate, fair market rental housing.  In 2016, 23.3% of children in Buncombe County lived below the poverty line.

Our team will be working with several families, since AAHFH usually has about 6 projects ongoing simultaneously.  We have information on two of those families and when reading their stories, the reality of the situation becomes obvious.  Shaketia is a teacher and has two children.  When her lease was due for renewal, she was unable to afford the significant increase in rent and was forced to move in with her mother.  She now shares a twin bed with her daughter while her son sleeps on the floor.  Mary has been driving a school bus for 10 years and has four children.  Her landlord decided to sell affordable rental home they had been living in for 8 years and she was forced to find a new home for her family.  Her only option was to lease a small 3 bedroom apartment for the 5 of them.

Stories like those of Shaketia and Mary are far too common. Many of us may be fortunate enough to have not experienced this type of hardship, but we only need look to see those important qualities that we share.  They are good people, hard working, striving to support their families and raise their children as best they can.  When times got tough, they did what they had to and kept a positive outlook.  Sounds familiar?  Yes, to me too.

Our work in Asheville will be a time of learning, sharing, hard work and, yes, love.  The lives of these families will be changed forever and I’m lucky to be able to be a part of this experience.  I’m excited for the journey.

*If you would like to make a financial contribution toward the work of Habitat for Humanity and help families like those of Shaketia and Mary, please use this link.  Every dollar counts!

**This post contains statements and images provided by AAHFH.  Their collaboration and support is appreciated.

Looking back on a great year…

It’s only a few days into 2018 and already I’m in full swing:  planning, organizing, scheming and plotting.  Haha, so many fun things coming up soon!  But before I get caught up in what’s next, I find myself looking back and thinking “WOW”.  2017 brought so many truly special moments.  Many of them were centered around my volunteer travels and none of them would have been possible without so many wonderful supporters.  Let me say that again to make sure it’s clear.  I couldn’t do any of this without YOU! 🙂

In 2017, I was fortunate enough to build homes with Habitat for Humanity Global Village teams in China, Mexico and Cambodia.  I worked with over 40 volunteers to help 3 families build safe and secure homes.  And along the way, more than 20 donors and supporters helped me to raise over $3000 to further this mission – thank you!  Truly amazing numbers.  But the numbers tell only part of the story.  It’s the special moments on these trips are what really get you.

In each location, the families, teams, building techniques and culture were extremely different.  We never knew what to expect until we arrived.  And I can honestly say that none of the trips were what I imagined as I was planning for them – they were all much better. 🙂

In China, our team of 8 volunteers worked with Mr. Long as he built a home for his multi-generational family.  Soon 13 people will be living safely here all under one roof!  You can read more about our trip to China here and see some photos of our work here.

 

In Mexico, a large team of 18 volunteers worked with Margarita – a widow who lives with her 3 daughters, 2 sons and daughter-in-law.  After her husband passed away, Margarita had to take on all of the household duties.  Life is challenging but she never complains – in fact, quite the opposite.  Margarita shared her smile with us daily and after we left, she said that she was still “dreaming about the work that was done and all the faces of the people that helped.”

    

The Big Build in Cambodia was a whirlwind of activity (read more here) and at the future homes of Sopheap and Sophary, you could feel the excitement.  Our team of 18 volunteers helped raise the walls of their homes and were inspired by their stories and outlook on life.

    

2018 will take me to many new places including (Vietnam, Jordan and Brazil) and I continue to be grateful for your support.  To those of you who have traveled around the world with me, thank you for the investment you’ve made!  But you don’t have to join a team to participate.  Whether it be a ride to the airport, a gift of tangible items or monetary donations to share with families around the world or even a message of encouragement, your involvement in this mission is paramount to it’s success and I am so thankful to have you on this journey with me.  Continue to ask questions, I love to talk about the trips!  If you want to be more involved, let me know and I’ll give you a slideshow – we can share the word together!  And remember, when you are ready – there’s always room for you on the next trip. 🙂

Just in case you’ve gotten all the way through this post and these words move you…I’m currently fundraising to help families in Brazil, Jordan and Vietnam .  Click on the country of your choice to access my fundraising page or let me know if you’d like to send any donations of clothing or other supplies. 🙂  Thanks in advance!

A BIG Build

In November, had the opportunity to lead a Global Village Volunteer Team for Habitat to Humanity to Cambodia.  What a great experience!  It was not only the first time I’d traveled to Cambodia, but also a new volunteer experience for me – out of 20+ international volunteer trips, this was my first BIG build. 🙂

What, you may ask, makes this so special and WHY, Tricia, are you emphasizing the “BIG” part of this?  Well, this was no ordinary project.  In summary – 265 international volunteers came together during the same 5 days in Battambang province to build 23 houses for deserving homeowners.  If that doesn’t qualify as BIG I’m not sure what does.

From time to time, countries who are working with Habitat for Humanity decide to put on a special event and focus their resources on helping lots of families at the same time.  It’s their way of boosting their capacity and serving as many homeowners as possible!   This event, known as a “Big” or “Blitz” Build, is not only a mechanism by which homes are constructed, but also serves to build a bigger community of volunteers.  Here’s a little bit of information from Habitat for Humanity Cambodia on this years event.

During this year’s Cambodia Big Build, 17 teams of 2-40 volunteers each from 6 different countries participated.  The largest groups came from the US, Canada and New Zealand, but volunteers from Australia, Great Britain, Hong Kong were there to contribute too!  Here’s a photo of most of the group – wow.

Because of the size of the group, the logistics were obviously very different than most of the other projects on which I’ve participated.  Instead of spending a week in the most remote corner of Kyrgyzstan, Zambia or China where few tourists ever travel, we created our own international convey descending on Siem Reap and Battambang en masse.  We spent time not just learning about the local culture, but meeting new volunteers from home too.  It was great fun!  Well…once we got going.  We arrived in Siem Reap and traveled by 14 buses for about 3 hours to reach Battambang.  Upon arrival, let’s just say the check in area was a little overwhelming…

We were welcomed to Cambodia with a dinner and presentation at the Governor’s Palace.  We learned about the work of HFH Cambodia, enjoyed a good meal, and were treated to some traditional Cambodian music and dance!

  

The next morning, it was finally time to get started building those 23 homes.  We loaded up our buses again and traveled about 20 minutes from the hotel to the work community – complete with police escort!  There was more ceremony for us before the hard work started – HFH Cambodia presented each volunteer with a traditional scarf and then we gathered in the lunch tent for another presentation.  Let’s just say that seeing so many people together in the same place at the same time for the same purpose was inspiring.

But when it really hit us all was when we were introduced to the 23 future-homeowners.  Each family sent one person to the stage and two representatives were selected to give short speeches.  They talked about how excited they were for this opportunity to own a home and how honored they were that we had volunteered to assist them.  Their stories touched our hearts and motived us even more to do everything we could over the next 5 days.

After a little more pomp and circumstance, at last we were released to work!  The 23 homes that would be built were located in two separate communities just a few minutes drive apart.  My team set off for “Site 1”.  Here we are….on our way… 

On this site, 9 houses would be built – all on the same street.  When we arrived, the foundations of the houses were complete and they also had a roof!  The roof is usually put on last but because the weather forecast included rain, local workers put them on so that we could continue our work no matter what.  No rest for the weary.

Our tasks over the 5 days included carrying lots buckets of mortar and sand as well as building all of the walls on each home.  Toward the end of the week, we also prepared the floor and plastered the walls.  The site was a buzz every day with ~100 people scurrying about.  Just looking up and down the street you can tell how hard everyone was working.

Well, we were working hard until the donut lady showed up. 😉 

Since finishing the houses by Friday was the goal, local workers helped to bring all of the houses to the same stage each evening.  On the morning of the last day, we were ready to present the homes to the families!  Everyone cleaned up their respective worksites, decorated the façade, and then (you guessed it!) held a short ceremony.  We allowed the homeowners to cut the ribbon on their home and presented them with a group photo, gift basket and symbolic key before removing our shoes and becoming their first guests.  We shared our thoughts with each other and celebrated this huge milestone together.  Here’s an example of what one of the homes looked like when we were finished: It was an emotional but exciting week and looking back, it’s amazing to think about how much was accomplished!  This was an incredible trip for many reasons and I’m so glad that I participated.  Stories of our particular homeowner will follow soon.  🙂 🙂

***Thanks to Habitat for Humanity Cambodia for hosting this event and for the group photo included in the above post.